What can we do to transmit a love of the Land of Israel to the next generation? The Book of Numbers, by concluding with the case involving the five daughters of Tzelofhad, touches on this very issue. These women — Machla, Noa, Hogla, Milca and Tirza — moved all the way up the judicial and political ladder until they stood before Moses himself.
By insisting on their rights of inheritance so that Tzelofhad would also have a portion in the future eternity of Israel through his descendants’ working and living in the Land of Israel, they won the case for female rights to inheritance, causing an entire addendum to be added to the previous inheritance laws of the Torah!
Who was Tzelofhad, father of such special women, and how did he instill in them such a strong love of the Land of Israel? The Talmud [Shabbat 96b-97a] records a fascinating dispute that offers insights that have far-reaching implications as it relates to transmitting a love for the Land of Israel.
According to Rabbi Akiva, “the one who gathered wood [on the Sabbath and was stoned to death as a punishment] [Num. 15:32–36] was Tzelofhad, as it is written, ‘and the People of Israel were in the desert and they found a man gathering wood,’ and later it is written, ‘our father died in the desert’ [regarding Tzelofhad; ibid., 27:3].”
Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteyra sees Tzelofhad as one of the ma’apilim, the brazen would-be conquerors of Israel, the nonreligious Zionists who storm the ramparts of the Land of Canaan with neither God nor the Holy Ark of the Torah in their midst but nevertheless with a strong love for the land and the peoplehood of Israel.
They may have failed at their attempt in the desert, but it was apparently their passionate love for the land of Zion that produced these very special five daughters, who learned their love for the land from their father and added to it an indomitable faith in God and in the equitability of His Torah.
In contrast, why did Rabbi Akiva identify Tzelofhad with the culpable gatherer of wood, a Sabbath desecrator who was condemned to death?
Perhaps Rabbi Akiva specifically identifies Tzelofhad as the culpable wood-gatherer in order to stress that even though a Jew may tragically cut himself off from the religious covenant, he still remains an inextricable member of the national covenant, the historic nation of Israel. And although his five brilliant and righteous daughters re-established a profound relationship with the Hebraic laws and traditions, they undoubtedly received much of their Zionistic fervor for the land from their father! Therefore, his share in the land was indisputable and deserved to be bequeathed to his daughters.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chief rabbi of Efrat.